TEL AVIV (Feb. 18)
The Israel Defense Force completed the first stage of its withdrawal from south Lebanon Saturday, two days ahead of the schedule which had set February 18 as the date of their final departure.
The pull-out from the port city of Sidon and the rest of the northwest sector of south Lebanon was accomplished smoothly. But elation over that accomplishment was marred by new casualties. One Israeli soldier was killed yesterday and three others were wounded by a roadside explosive near Tyre as the IDF deployed along its new lines. It was the fifth IDF fatality in two weeks.
According to a military spokesman, a convoy was approaching EI-Basuriya village east of Tyre when a 15-kilogram charge of explosives was detonated under the lead escort jeep and an armored personnel carrier, causing the casualties.
REASON FOR EARLIER PULL-OUT
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin informed the Cabinet yesterday that the pull-out from Sidon and the rest of the Awali River sector was advanced by two days because of intelligence reports that terrorists intended to attack the departing IDF units today. Rabin’s explanation was in part to mollify religious elements in the government who raised an outcry over why the withdrawal took place on Saturday, in violation of the Sabbath.
Premier Shimon Peres observed that IDF operations in Lebanon went on seven days a week without objections from the religious. “What is the difference if the IDF moves on Saturday northward or southward,” he asked. A Haaretz reporter who witnessed the evacuation from Sidon wrote that he had never seen so many skullcap-wearing men express such pleasure at riding on the Sabbath, a reference to observant soldiers.
The pull-out was also witnessed by Rabin, Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy and senior officers of the northern command who watched from a hill-top overlooking Sidon.
LEBANESE ARMY ENTERS SIDON
As the Israeli troops left, promptly at noon, units of the Lebanese regular army crossed the Awali River and entered Sidon to the cheers of enthusiastic crowds. The Lebanese regulars are taking over the positions evacuated by the IDF. President Amin Gemayel and Premier Rashid Karameh visited Sidon to demonstrate that the Beirut regime is indeed firmly in control of at least a part of south Lebanon.
As if to further that impression, the Lebanese Defense Minister announced that he had instructed his troops to fire on the IDF if any confrontation developed. He said the Lebanese army would fight the Israelis if they attempted to return to south Lebanon.
IDF ENCAMPED ON A NEW LINE
The IDF is now encamped on a new line extending from the coast, along the Litani River to the mountain town of Jezzine. The Cabinet is expected to begin discussing the second stage of the pull-out within a week. According to senior IDF officers, it will be more complicated and difficult than the first stage. But military sources said it could begin in about three weeks.
The second stage will bring the IDF to a line closer to the Israeli border and will involve the mass movement of troops rather than equipment. According to military sources, the IDF will be most vulnerable to attack in this stage as it leaves the eastern sector of south Lebanon where it presently faces the forces of Syria and Palestine Liberation Organization dissidents led by Abu Moussa, Yasir Arafat’s principal rival for leadership of the PLO.
IDF DELIGHTED TO BE LEAVING SIDON
The Israeli troops were delighted to be leaving Sidon and the Awali River line where they had been subjected to continuous harassment by hostile elements, mainly Shiite Moslems. A sour note was struck when Orthodox elements in the government denounced the army for choosing Saturday to pull out of Sidon.
An ominous note accompanied the withdrawal. At least four Lebanese were reported murdered for collaborating with the IDF, and a fleet of locallyowned trucks used to help the Israelis evacuate was destroyed. The culprits are believed to be the Shiite Moslem militia or other elements hostile to Israel.